Hull City's game with Wolverhampton Wanderers had been moved to the Tuesday night for absolutely no reason, so determined to still have a Bank Holiday Monday to enjoy, me, Tom and Dad booked ourselves down to the finally refurbished but still claustrophobic hellhole that is Birmingham New Street station.
What with my Warrington / Runcorn trip occupying most of my Bank Holiday mind, I'd made the lazy/dangerous decision to leave Tom in charge of the pub plan. This meant that we were likely to end up anywhere in the UK but Wolverhampton, despite me having several straightforward pub ticks still to do in that town. "You'll be able to knock those off whenever you're passing through!" Tom later observed, as though Wolverhampton was some obvious interchange for a York-L**ds commuter.
Despite all this, I was still surprised to find ourselves directed to Shropshire. Shifnal to be precise, for our first two pubs of the day. Dad & I were in before 11:30am, and knowing nothing would likely open before 12 noon, we walked up and down the main street, past the two GBG pubs and two others (Beehive and Wheatsheaf from memory) looking for the first signs of life.
Our second (and least likely) pub the Plough struck first, as a lady scurried outside with a pub blackboard before locking the door nervously again, around 11:45am.
A bald man of West Midlands facial features had been spied outside puffing up his chest and unlocking a side door at the Wheatsheaf. But then he grinned and sped off in a car, no doubt stolen.
The Beehive was showing zero life, and neither had the White Hart but as the rain started to pour down and we sheltered in the doorway, an enthusiastic style whippet of a young man opened up, 'twas now 11:52am and whilst he admitted he wasn't quite 'ready', we could sit inside and wait. A quality sign already......
|The pub looking beautifully historic|
|Me propping up the pub in case it falls down|
And it was still before 12 noon when he did finally serve us, making me imagine that outside of Wetherspoons, this might have been the earliest pub to serve in the UK today.
Although Shropshire, the pub couldn't have felt more West Midlands if I'd been sat in a balti jacuzzi with Jasper Carrot and Ozzy Osbourne, with it's dirt cheap Holdens Mild and other suitably Black Country ales, basic snacks scrawled onto the bar in chalk, friendly staff & locals alike, uneven floor and creaky old beams and intimacy. Oh, this was how every pub should be. And it only got better the more people arrived, one of whom was Thomas J. Irvin who rolled towards us like soggy ginger tumbleweed, only funnier. Despite a bag full of 'supplies', Dad had deemed it 'almost rude' if we didn't try and buy two pork pies. "You won't need two, they're huge!" warned our barman and sure enough, we were soon settling down to the best pork pie I'd had in years, served with sharp knives (a chainsaw may've been more appropriate, what a crust!) and even sharper English mustard, which made me nostalgic for the Railway in Greenfield, my fave mustard pub ever. Craziness was all that was missing from this epic BRAPA experience and it arrived in the form of young tattooed couple - ultra friendly but totally mad, especially her, a laugh to put Marlene from Only Fools and Horses to shame. Was he Boycie? Well, maybe if John Challis had a tattooed face. And that said it all. Certainly one of the more special GBG pubs I will visit this year.
|Blind Sooty and the only kind of pub food I find acceptable!|
|Where we would sit|
|Dark mild, wrong glass but great pint|
1306 / 2052. Plough, Shifnal
Credit must go to Tom for even getting us here, because the GBG says this pub doesn't open Mondays, and nothing I've seen in BRAPA history leads me to believe a pub would treat a Bank Holiday Monday any differently. However. Tom had noticed food times on the official website starting from 12 noon - conclusion, they MUST be opening. They were, and if it hadn't been following a pub as ridiculously brilliant as the White Hart, I'd be raving about this, because it was a properly good historic pub, friendly welcome and nice clientele. All that was missing was a bit of the pubby comfort and warmth in the last place, oh and if I was really being pedantic, a Hopback beer in a Doom Bar glass could be quite upsetting, but I'm going through a real spell of 'wrong glassware' at the moment. Never mind. One of those bald friendly football mad Midlands blokes was sat along the bench from us, and some idiot (me) let it slip we were Hull City fans and he had plenty to say on our 'surprise demise'. Well, lovely as he was, me and Dad looked at each other like "cannot be arsed going through all this Allam decline rigmarole again" but luckily, Tom is never backwards in coming forwards when given the opportunity to jump aboard the Hull City soapbox and wax lyrical, so he did all the hard work, whilst me and Dad immersed ourselves in Derby County v Preston North End, which was about as life affirming as watching a 2018 remake of Saint & Greavsie. Kind of tragic, but you cannot take your eyes off it.
|Standard boring 'beer at the bar' photo|
|Attempted arty shot of pub life in Shifnal|
|Doom, Derby and Preston|
Dad was increasingly convinced Shifnal and Codsall were made up places, having never heard of them before in his 71 years on this planet, whilst I just wondered if these pubs would actually be open (especially as one of them was a club).
As the famous Joules 'red cross' logo loomed large in the distance, I turned to see a very similar logo at a popular wanky eatery called 'Medicine' which seemed off-putting to me but not to the zombie hoardes of Codsall obviously. The place looked half like a chemists, and half like a new build lower league Scottish football ground ...... mmmm, appetising.
Anyway, the pub was here so no time to get worried about potential weirdness, well not til I'd gone inside anyway .....
1307 / 2053. Crown Joule's, Codsall
Funny really, cos I've always thought that Joules cross looks medicinal, but according to a sign on the wall, it's the 6th oldest pub logo or something. Not quite sure why Joule's pubs feel the need to try and push their so called interesting facts on the customers, but they love their puzzles, quotes, riddles etc. daubed on every wall. Always reminds me of being in a Dr Seuss book when I enter one of their pubs. Don't get me wrong, they do their pubs very nicely with stained glass and nice wooden old features, but considering the dreary Congleton version was all about Joule's being pronounced in any one of 4 ways you wish ("there is no right answer"), this pub seemed to be telling you it was definitely "jewels". This was easily the brightest breeziest Joule's pub I'd been in to date, and the first not solely populated by old men. There were people eating, a ridiculous dog laying under a Christmas tree and an old portrait that looked like Paddy Considine, and this twildy twild that kept running around the bar in increasingly fast spinning circles til his own head started spinning exorcist style. Reckon if I lived in the Staffs area, Joule's ales could become a bit wearing after a while, but still enough novelty factor for me as you never see them in York, L**ds or Hull, and the Shropshire Hop went down nicely despite the retro sweets taste. Nice place this despite the odd flaw.
You couldn't really expect our other Codsall destination, a club to be open. After all, it didn't open on Monday's as a rule but it's proximity to the Crown Joule's, plus mine and Tom's strange feeling it actually might, meant it was definitely worth having a look.
Behind a hedge, some more bald men with West Midlands faces on Staffordshire bodies with Shropshire feet were laughing and smoking, but this was next door to the club. Tom walked down a path, a bit like an inquisitive Minotaur in a very unchallenging maze, and turned & nodded. Yes, it was open! Party time....
|Feel the joy .....|
|The path from where we'd come|
1308 / 2054. Firs Club, Codsall
Me and my fellow pub tickers spend a lot of time boring on about pubs and clubs that SHOULD be open according to listed hours, but aren't, so isn't it nice to see a rare success story - one which by all intents and purposes should be closed, but was open. It was just gone 3pm and I wandered into the bar and bewildered by only seeing an old school Stella clip, ask what fine ales were on offer and we were read a list from some hidden 'beyond'. I realised I was clutching my GBG in case I had to prove I was a CAMRA member (pretty sure that wouldn't have cut it!) but unlike many clubs, no one batted an eyelid at these three strangers presence. The welcome was even friendly. This was obviously more Wickersley than Penistone. That is how I judge all clubs. As we wandered into this beautiful plush back room, you could feel the quality, and Dad comparing it to the Bolton Ukranian club means he was reading my mind. I mentioned recently how Wetherspoons GBG entries are particularly cruel on Dad, well it is the opposite for club entries - Dad always gets the best of them. The fir trees and back garden were beautiful and ancient. Dad did have one gripe, he'd asked for a coffee. "We have no milk, is black ok, it'll have to be?!" exclaimed the staff to his horror, and he spent the rest of our time there chuntering about how it wasn't good enough, to the point where I sang "Let it Go" off his fave film 'Frozen'. No doubt, in the year 2050, the Millennial Snowflake version of Mudgie will be telling a pub ticker that 'the older you get, the more you appreciate Frozen' en route to their keg beer emporium in Chorlton as vintage One Direction play on the self-driving car audio pod. Back to Dad, and as is now routine, he says "will ya take a picture of me with mi coffee in case your mother sees your blog?" The power Mother BRAPA possesses is second to none. A bell sounded ..... "that sounded suspiciously like last orders" I said to Tom. It was. "We are closing at 4 ladies & gents". Wow, we really had time this visit right hadn't we? Great place this, get yerself there!
|Stella, Dark Fruits or Guinness?|
|Everyone is this club had this face|
|Dad and Tom loving our plush little lounge|
|Dad learns to love black coffee|
|Hang on, this is me at the Firs, no outdoor shot at the Micropub thing.|
Codsall Micropub Station Thing. Codsall
Pre-emptive I thought, until some dude on Twitter says "it's been in before!" so post-emptive it was. First mystery, how the hell has it been de-guided?? Beautifully railway themed, hard working staff, great beer, friendly to a point, ok the standard had been high today, but I'd rank it above the Crown Joule's and probably put it on a par with the Firs. Dad even declared it pub of the day, I personally preferred White Hart but not by loads. Perhaps it was the perceived sadness of the clientele. Almost everyone was a bloke of a certain age sat alone or in a pair, looking utterly miserable, but enjoying the misery in a Mrs Doyle tea making way? It was an odd vibe, even the 'Wolves almost full kit wanker' bloke (usually an obnoxious breed) seemed rather lugubrious and gentle. "Cheer up chicken, you might reach double figures in the Premier League next season!" I wanted to say, but I've always been a bit wary of them. Some people seemed to be openly sobbing. Tears of joy? Perhaps this is what put CAMRA off on their visit, but for me, if this was in Cowdenbeath, it'd be in the GBG like a shot, so why not Codsall, but more on that kind of debate in my next blog. We couldn't dilly dally, but this was a wonderful way to end the day, well done Tom, well done everyone!
|Gloomy quarter of Pepsi for Young Fluffy Hood|
|Tom's hand ready to shake the misery out of tiny Wolves fan|
|"Oh no I can't go on, this place is just too railway-tastic!"|
Time to rest up for Saturday, where I'd be starting Cambridgeshire .....